After one member decided to recuse himself, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 on Monday to recommend that the governor commute the death sentence of convicted murderer Julius Jones.
Gov. Kevin Stitt said he would give sober consideration to making his decision.
The parole board wants the governor to reduce Mr. Jones’ sentence to life with the possibility of parole.
The vote came a week after the Oklahoma district attorney criticized the board of being biased.
Mr. Jones was convicted of killing an Edmond insurance executive during a carjacking.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board voted Monday to recommend that Gov. Kevin Stitt commute the death sentence of Julius Jones.
Parole board Members Adam Luck, Larry Morris and Kelly Doyle voted in favor of recommending commutation, but Board Member Richard Smothermon voted against the recommendation.
“I just don’t have the words to say,” Madeline Davis Jones, mother of Julius Jones, said after the vote.
“I don’t know how I was feeling. I was just in a good place.”
Mr. Jones, 41, is facing execution for the 1999 fatal shooting of Edmond insurance executive Paul Howell during a carjacking.
After his trial, jurors chose the death penalty in 2002.
After listening to emotional appeals from the victim’s family, and legal points from a prosecutor and a defense attorney, Board Member Luck said the board is not a court or jury, but, “quite simply, I have doubts about this case.”
If the governor commutes the sentence, he could be immediately eligible for parole.
The governor could decide to commute the sentence to life without parole.
Another alternative is for the governor to let stand the death sentence imposed by the jury.
“The governor takes his role in this process seriously and will carefully consider the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation, as he does in all cases,” a statement from the Governor’s Office said.
“We will not have any further comment until the governor has made a decision.”
The Jones case has attracted international attention and interest by several celebrities.
Julius Jones was 19 at the time of his arrest.
He claims he is innocent and was framed by the actual killer.
Paul Howell was gunned down in his parents’ driveway in Edmond after a back-to-school shopping trip with his daughters.
Rachel Howell, one of Paul Howell’s daughters, told the board she was in the backseat of the family vehicle when she saw Julius Jones walk by.
“I waved at him, like any innocent child would,” she said.
A moment later, she heard a gunshot.
Megan Howell, Paul Howell’s sister, said she heard the shot when she was exiting the passenger side of the vehicle.
“As I was rushing the girls to safety, Jones yelled ‘stop’” and shot again, Megan Howell told the board.
Megan Howell said she has experienced “a whole new level of fear,” since Jones wrote her a letter, apparently having found her address.
“At 74, I never thought I’d be scared to go out in public,” she said Monday at the hearing.
Millions signed a petition in Jones’ support after ABC in 2018 aired the documentary series, “The Last Defense,” about his innocence claim.
Mr. Jones’ supporters include celebrity Kim Kardashian, who visited him last year at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
“Why does my trauma have to be entertainment for people?” Rachel Howell told the board. “How can I have love and compassion for Julius Jones?”
Parole Board Member Scott Williams recused himself
Board Member Williams said he stepped aside “out of an abundance of caution.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prated had called for Board Member Williams to be disqualified from the vote because of his ties to a key Jones supporter.
Board Member Williams is listed online as on the “team” of KMM Sports, a company founded by Kelli Masters, a sports agent, attorney and former twirler at the University of Oklahoma.
Board Member Williams, who initially refused to disqualify himself, said he has only an unpaid advisory position and has never discussed the Jones case with Mr. Masters.
“I am confident no conflict of interest is in place,” Board Member Williams said.
Miss Masters spoke briefly at the hearing, saying she met Julius Jones in person.
She described the death row inmate as a a man who offers “wisdom and perspective” that the world needs, and said she wants to help young men stay away from situations that may land them in prison.
The death row inmate could not appear before the board because of prison misconduct allegations, according to District Attorney Prater.
The Frontier, an Oklahoma news Website, reported Mr. Jones was in possession of a cell phone charger and made an unauthorized conference call.
“The truth is: I did not kill Mr. Howell,” the death row inmate wrote in a letter to the board. “I did not participate in any way in his murder and the first time I saw him was on television when his death was reported.”
In the letter, Mr. Jones said he was never given a chance to share his alibi, and “despite the fact that I was at home with my siblings and parents during the time of the murder, my lawyer never saw fit to call them to the stand.”
Prosecutors told the parole board that his own attorneys testified Mr. Jones said he wasn’t home.
Christopher Jordan, the death row inmate’s friend, implicated Mr. Jones as the shooter at the trial.
Mr. Jordan pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Mr. Jones claims that Mr. Jordan is the killer and framed him to get his plea deal.
“There are multiple men who did time with Christopher Jordan who reveal that Jordan regularly and casually confessed to killing Paul Howell,” Mr. Jones wrote.
Prosecutors have countered that the new witnesses are not believable.
Prosecutors say in the days before murdering Paul Howell, Mr. Jones committed an armed robbery at the Royal Jewelers jewelry store inside Quail Springs Mall by placing a gun to the store owner’s head.
A couple weeks later, Mr. Jones committed back-to-back carjackings at Hideaway Pizza on Western Avenue in Oklahoma City, according to prosecutors.
“This was a young man who had been involved in a long, escalating [process] of violence,” a prosecutor said.